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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Parental burnout: the time for action is now

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

Our organisations are broken – and it's breaking our people (1)

The pandemic’s siege on mental health is real, with companies reporting that employees’ initial productivity sprints have given way to fatigue. Working parents are being hit hard as they continue to feel the stresses of balancing work and childcare. (2)

Being a working parent has never been easy.

The emotional challenges, work/life balance, job demands, childcare issues, finances. The list is never ending.

‘If you decide to have them, balancing children with your career is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.’ (3)

The latest edition of the ‘Harvard Business Review’ reports:

‘While governments can do a lot to help working parents, companies can and should be doing more.

For example, employees value flexible work arrangements and companies need to get serious about offering them. Companies have to create an environment that acknowledges the role of parents to reduce the need to have to hide their childcare challenges from work. (4)

The pressure has been building.

What working parent worth their salt hasn’t felt as though they should be doing better at work, spending more time with their toddler or being more available for the kids during their critical teenage years? (5)

So, if you are a working parent - how many of these 10 statements ring true?

  • I am always ‘on’ in one form or another – whether it’s logging onto work, picking the kids up or doing the household chores

  • ‘Of course, I’m tired. Between work and kids it’s impossible to turn off or get any real relaxation

  • When I take a break, all I can think about is the things I have to do

  • No matter how many things I tick off my to-do list it never gets shorter

  • I used to spend time with friends but I never do that now

  • My productivity at work is nowhere near where it should be.

  • Maybe I just need to push myself more

  • I am concerned about job security or finances

  • Sure I would love a break – but I can’t skip work or ignore the kids to get a day away at the spa

  • I worry about the wheels coming off the bus. What if I really lose my patience at home or work?

Take heart - statements like these come from a genuine desire to do the right things.

The last year has been exceptionally challenging - 60% of working parents have been feeling burnt out:

Parents are so ‘in it,’ living in day-to-day survival mode – burnout is on the increase – and so is ‘parental burnout.’ Recognizing parental burnout is difficult – it’s not helped by saying ‘oh yeah, me too, that’s just parenting.’ But we’re in a new normal now – when the struggles of working parents are even more apparent and resources even tighter. (6)

There are different levels of parental burnout:

  • No burnout –all good

  • Mild burnout – a parent who is experiencing an a-typical situation – perhaps a temporarily sick child, a partner who is working away, a disrupted routine. Symptoms: short temper, poor sleep, limited tolerance, mild anxiety

  • Moderate burnout – a parent facing more frequent issues – money problems, childcare or child discipline issues, lack of time for self- care, work and home life making too many demands for the time available. Symptoms: headaches, upset stomach, anxiety and depression, feelings of isolation and being overwhelmed, increased conflict with kids or partner, forgetfulness

  • Severe burnout – a parent facing the ‘moderate’ burnout issues over a prolonged or long -term period. Unable to find solutions or support. Symptoms: as above plus additional health problems, high level of anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed. (7)

So, what can companies do?

EGM recommendations:

Gather the data

Where do your working parents sit in the company structure? What functions and departments are they working in? What are their attrition patterns? At what stage do working parents find a role with another company?

The evidence may surprise you.

Find the real pain points – not the assumed ones

What is the feedback from staff surveys telling you about work-life balance for working parents? Have issues been raised in annual performance /interim appraisals, 1-2-1 meetings or informal conversations?

Open a dialogue with working parents – focus groups, one-off surveys

The pain points aren’t confined to new parents – parenthood is am 18-year job (at least).

Pre-empt problems

One professional services company saw attrition 12-18 months after parents returned to work. Managers and HR arranged check-ins after 9-12 months – discussing work-life balance issues and career progression.

The results – better relations and reduced turnover. (8)

Revisit policies on flexible working

Consider remote or hybrid working, flexible start and finish times, part-time working, avoiding rush hours, revise time-off rules, allow unpaid leave between projects.

Improve communication and remove doubt

Fortify communication about parent-related policies. Leave nothing to doubt or interpretation.

Work in partnership

Involve working parents in designing policies/initiatives that impact them.

Turn the pressure down

Simplify work – reshape meeting practices, email etiquette, remove unnecessary processes, compliance, rules, procedures, revisit job design and goals, categorize communications by importance.

Re-examine how you support employees

Employee assistance programmes, mental health awareness, stress management, support groups for those with kids at home, mental health days, wellness programmes.

Provide coaching, trusted role models and advice

For example, at McKinsey:

‘Once you’re back to work, you’ll find plenty of coaching and support from Local Moms Leads – designated senior leaders in each office who counsel moms and expecting moms on navigating work and parenthood.’ (9)

Leverage your company infrastructure to build a community and make life easier

Goldman Sachs, for example, provides a ‘Help at Home’ intranet bulletin board where parents can publish tips, information and childcare availability. (10)

Improve paternity leave

Look to do more than the absolute legal minimum.

In a recent survey titled ‘a fresh look at paternity leave, why the benefits extend beyond the personal,’ McKinsey found that increased paternity leave allowances strengthen family relationships, help establish a shared parental role and build the foundations to better meet the challenges ahead. It also generates increased enthusiasm for the employer giving the support in a time of mental-health challenges. (11)

Companies should take note.

Encourage paternity leave – clarify that careers won’t be impacted (promotion timelines, for example).

Consider flexible return to work options

When parents return to work - phasing in working hours, reducing travel, offer different roles if appropriate.

Senior leaders – set the example

Senior leaders - show you care about balancing job and family – pictures of kids on your desk, leave early once a month for the school play or open evening – ‘I can do this and so can you.’ Model the behaviours you want to see in others. Take an interest and let employees know you are ‘looking out for them.’

According to McKinsey research on how leaders can improve employee experience – the ‘needs’ approach - companies should target the ‘things that matter most.’ (12)

There can be few more important priorities than this.

Parental burnout: the time for action is now.

  1. Get out of your own way: let’s build better companies, EGM blog

  2. The challenges for working mothers, and what companies and others can do to help, McKinsey, 9 May 2021

  3. Can’t even, Anne Helen Peterson

  4. To retain women, companies need better childcare policies, Deborah Schroeder- Saulnier, Harvard Business Review, 28 May 2021

  5. The Best Ways Organizations can support working parents, Daisy Dowling

  6. HRD, 5 May 2021

  7. – parenting respite and resource centre

  8. The Best Ways Organizations can support working parents, Daisy Dowling

  9. The challenges for working mothers, and what companies and others can do to help, McKinsey, 9 May 2021

  10. The Best Ways Organizations can support working parents, Daisy Dowling

  11. A fresh look at paternity leave. Why the benefits extend beyond the personal, McKinsey, March 2021

  12. Covid-19 and the employee experience: how leaders can seize the moment, McKinsey 28 June 2020

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